The tennis clay court train will soon shift trajectories to the eternal city of Rome. In its wake, a lot has happened to the tennis landscape, both on the ATP and the WTA tours. As we head into Rome, I’ll share with you what I know, and what I think I know, as we get ready for the clay swing’s final masters level tournament.
- What I Know
- The old guard needs a good tournament showing. Yes I am talking about Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Both champions have a combined 38 grand slam titles between them, and yet both come into Rome with no titles to show for 2016. The similarities don’t stop there. They both have recently been struggling with their health and match fitness. Has age finally caught up to these two? Is the stress and strain of the tour finally too much to handle? Is this the beginning of the long awaited and inevitable decline? A victory by either in Rome, would silence a portion of the dreaded R noise. A good showing would definitely douse it a bit, but a poor showing would be like adding fuel to a wild fire.
- The WTA is rudderless at the moment. Taking Serena’s recent woes a notch further, it has left the WTA in a bit of distress. As has been the common theme for a number of years, nobody seems ready to ahem… “take the throne”. One day it’s Halep, the next it’s Bouchard and the day after, Radwanska takes home her customary quarterly title. While Azarenka has put on a strong showing since her return, it is clear to see that any tennis fan looking towards her as the next model of consistency in excellence, will be disappointed. With Sharapova fighting a looming career ending ban, it is anyone’s guess who will win in Rome or in Roland Garros thereafter. So, who’s your money on? Who’s your Leicester City?
- What I think I Know
- Rafa’s back! I still think this is true, even with a competitive loss to Murray in Madrid. While I do not mean to throw any shade on Murray’s accomplishment (beating Rafa twice AND BACK TO BACK at the same tournament), this was Madrid. It is Rafa’s least productive clay court masters tournament by a long way. The high altitude in Madrid means it plays much faster than other clay court tournaments – an advantage to the Spaniard’s main rivals. All other members of the big four, have beaten Rafa in Madrid. Rome should be a different matter entirely. It’s speed and bounce are truer to conditions at the French, where Rafa should still be considered the resounding favorite.
- He’s flying under the radar and it just might be good for him. These days, you don’t get to use that phrase with Novak Djokovic a lot. He’s the deserving world number 1, and an almost default lock to come away from any tournament as the last man standing. Despite that, this is the French Open – a tournament that has broken his heart its fair share of times. It also happens to be the only tournament separating him from greatness and true tennis immortality. No pressure.
- Murray’s clay game is good. It’s really good. Madrid or not, it is not easy to defeat Rafa on clay. Particularly a Rafa getting back to his best. Murray did that and he has positioned himself as a third favorite (in my book) to win the title. I think he’ll put in AT LEAST a decent showing come Paris, but this is Murray. If his emotions get the better of him at any point in the tournament, it could be another grand slam exit, without the silverware.
- The next generation is not ready… STILL! At what point does the next generation start notching up consistent wins over this generation’s champions? When they are walking on crutches? Tennis transitions are always exciting times. The established, albeit aging champions fight to remain in control, while the upcoming challengers refine their game until there is a true passing of the torch. That hasn’t happened to this set of champions yet. Even with Dominic Thiem’s season, he has always fallen short when he pits his skills against one of the established top men. He’s gonna have to go that extra mile, if he wants to change the trend.
As you can see, I’m not sure about a lot of things… yet. But as a certain Spaniard would say; We gonna see after Rome, no?